The Spy who came out of the closet

Fleming in a lightweight navy two button, two-piece.

Fleming in a lightweight navy two button, two-piece.

While other (younger?) fans seem overly preoccupied with the calibre of Bond’s firearms, I have to admit that nothing fascinates me more than the way he dresses. The cut of his jacket, the tilt of his hat, the width of his lapels, the turn of his cuffs… was there ever a better dressed screen icon?

This article is intended as the first in a series, which will form a reference bank for other fans to dip into. Rather than present one, overly-long article I’ve broken the subject down into its various parts. The first two parts concentrate on Bond’s suits but if there is sufficient interest forthcoming articles could detail some of the other accessories and brands used and the reasoning behind their choice.

Although it might seem lengthy I have had to leave out some detail; if anyone has a specific query I’ll try to answer it via a personal message. Oh, and a lot of the research material is contradictory so I’ve tried to stick with the known facts unless otherwise stated. I’d be pleased to hear from any members who have information which will correct, add to or improve these articles.

Part 1: Bond’s Suits – the literary version

Ian Fleming – Benson, Perry and Whitley.

[quote]For Bond, Fleming chose an anonymous, pared-down version of his own wardrobe.[/quote]Although Dr No’s director, Terence Young, is the man most often credited with creating the screen Bond’s sense of style, equal credit should be afforded Ian Fleming for writing a more than adequate template. It is well documented in the various biographies that Fleming used himself as a role model for many of Bond’s habits, attitudes, tastes etc, so it was only natural that this should have extended to his choices in clothing.

While he had an eye for Savile Row quality and could often identify a particular tailor from the cut of another man’s suit, Fleming rarely shopped there, preferring the ‘off-Row’ prices of Benson, Perry and Whitley of the adjacent Cork Street. Biographer John Pearson makes reference to quotes from Mr Whitley that “Mr Fleming wore his suits until they were in threads” and that “He dressed for comfort not for style”. He usually had three suits made at a time, costing 58 guineas each (around £61) in the early 1950s.

Fleming in a double-breasted, note the detail of the turn-back cuffs.

Fleming in a double-breasted, note the detail of the turn-back cuffs.

His choices were more varied than those of his hero; he chose grey worsteds, navy blue serge-cloths and pin-stripes in two or three-piece varieties, both double and single-breasted. For weekends and more casual occasions houndstooth check was a favourite. Contemporary details such as turn-back cuffs were also frequently in evidence. But in all this variety there was an important common link: the weight. Up until this period men’s suits in Britain tended towards very heavy materials, but owing to his long periods spent in Jamaica Fleming developed a preference for unusually lightweight cloths. There is an apocryphal story that makes a reference to his predilection to lightweight suits; his friends are said to have commented that when his suit wore out he could take the buttons back to his tailor to have another stitched on. If he had lived, Fleming would have had the last laugh as today it seems the entire world has adopted the lightweight suit.

James Bond – the man with no labels

For Bond, Fleming chose an anonymous, pared-down version of his own wardrobe but in the novels the identity of Bond’s tailor was always a well kept secret.

Although Savile Row is hinted at (and specifically mentioned in Fleming’s 1964 article 007 and Me) we never learn any of the details of who makes his clothes or in what style they are cut. Over 14 books virtually all we can glean is that Bond’s suits and evening wear are lightweight and single-breasted; we are told some of the materials and colours (always navy serge for the regular suits or houndstooth check for more casual occasions) but we never learn how many buttons his jacket has or whether his trousers have turn-ups.

Fleming's more casual Houndstooth check suit as worn by 007.

Fleming’s more casual Houndstooth check suit as worn by 007.

This presented a slight problem for Fleming who used the literary trait of including brand names in order to ground the more outrageous elements of his stories with an air of reality; how could he portray his central character as a man of taste and refinement and still maintain a self imposed anonymity? This was neatly solved by having Bond appreciate the tastes of others; always noticing and recognising the tailoring and accessories of his adversaries. In Thunderball he identifies Count Lippe’s suit as Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard, his V-necked sweater looked like vicuna (the fleece of a rare South American mammal) and in Moonraker, Hugo Drax’s cuff-links are identified as Cartier, his watch as a Patek Phillipe.
Why do the villains always have the best clothes? I’ll be taking a closer look at this aspect of the character in part 3 of the series.

As a closing thought on the literary Bond, there has been conjecture, mostly from Gary Giblin’s excellent book James Bond’s London, that Bond’s tailor was Anderson & Sheppard of Savile Row: Prince Charles’ tailor of choice and the makers of Ralph Fiennes Avengers suits. Based on the facts that they are one of the most expensive tailors on the Row, that Bond is an ex-military man whilst A & S are famous for their de-structured, looser fit and that Bond was not entirely approving of Lippe’s suit in Thunderball… I would have thought this the last tailor that he would frequent.

In part two I’ll look at the suits and tailors of the films.

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